“A living room doesn’t give much natural reverb, and it’s not in our interest to artificially construct it”
Ulrika Spacek return on June 2nd with the release of their second album, Modern English Decoration. Much like their debut album released in early 2016, the band chose to record, produce and mix the entirety of the record in their shared house – a former art gallery called ‘KEN’, so named because of a cryptic inscription found above the front door. Not just a studio and home, KEN is essentially the band’s hub, a space in which the surrounding ephemera of videos, artwork and even band photos are all created.
The relatively short amount of time between their first and second albums is testament to the band’s self-contained creative environment and the productivity it encourages. There’s a tendency to label this degree of self-reliant creativity ‘DIY’ - and the band do certainly feel emboldened by that ethos - yet to consider Modern English Decoration solely in these terms is a disservice. Their craft is considered and purposeful, the means of its production reflecting the band’s overall vision rather than the value system of an often haphazard and accidental DIY culture. “We enjoy listening to music through the album format and want our records to reflect that”, says Rhys Edwards (guitars, vocals, synthesiser). “Though we may explore this in the future, our records are not 'jam' records. We’re fans of collage based art, and create music in the same way“
Ulrika Spacek formed in Berlin in one night, when 14-year-long friends Rhys Edwards and Rhys Williams conceptualised ‘Ulrika Spacek’ and came up with The Album Paranoia as their debut album title. Moving back to London with the intention to record it, they were joined by Joseph Stone (guitars, organ, synths, violin), Ben White (bass) and Callum Brown (drums, percussion), ossifying into the five-piece they are now. The album was released soon after with little forewarning but no little fanfare, and was accompanied by a year long, near-monthly club night called Oysterland that the band both curated and performed at. Less than 18 months later, the follow up arrives eerily fully formed, somewhat inevitably according to Edwards: "We started making this record as soon as we finished our first. Like our debut, we started with Track One on the album and went from there. Making a batch of songs then ordering them after they’re all finished isn't something we have much interest in.". Shirking the temptations to write ten three-minute singles, a more open and expansive style is preferred. Writing and arranging as they go, the intention is to let the material find its own place in the set, all the while retaining a sense of direction that avoids the pitfalls of self-indulgence.
Given the lyrics often favour abstraction and the vocals can be more impressionistic than declarative, the album title itself offers perhaps the most telling entry point to the record. In part, it’s a self-effacing play on an interior design cliché that references the meticulous creative processes the band adheres to. There’s also a nod towards the environment in which it was created – a Victorian house turned art gallery turned home studio. "This record was made in various rooms in our house, predominantly in the living room. Every part of the album reflects this, from the title to the setting of the lyrics. Doing everything ourselves is not just necessary: it’s important to us, as it allows us to truly create our own world”. While there’s an element of domesticity to the album’s creation, the themes that drive the songs are anything but, reflecting an all-too-common sense of mid-twenties alienation and anxiety, alongside the comforts/burdens of self-awareness.
Unsurprisingly given the context of its creation, Modern English Decoration might be considered a companion piece of sorts to The Album Paranoia. But there are crucial differences. Most notably, this isn’t the work of the Ulrika Spacek conceptualised by Edwards and Williams in Berlin – Modern English Decoration is the band as five rather than two people, and it shows. Those who have witnessed the intensity of their live show will instantly recognise the merits in this. The bass and drums provide a versatile anchor, at once soft, then aggressive, while the vocals drift woozily in and out, like druggy hindsight or skewed premonition. With three guitarists in the band guitars were always going to be central to the music, but what is less expected is the dynamic interplay between the trio that suggests a three-headed version of the Verlaine-Lloyd axis at the heart of Television. What’s more, the absence of reverb is integral, in part attributable to the ambience of the studio, but also a conscious decision in order to add focus. And focus is the abiding term: this is an album designed to be just so - a 45 minute commitment, a surrender.
Tijuana is a place where good music happens, It is a border
town with a very storied history - sometimes a history of
union, sometimes of violence. Such history has given it its
own flavor: a hybrid culture with many vibrant scenes and
artists that have defied their borders, playing for their own
crowds, outsiders who always carve their own road, going
from place to place around the globe until they find their
corner of the world.
Mint Field’s story is similar, but with its own set of
peculiarities. As it is with Tijuana, Estrella Sanchez and
Amor Amezcua believe their roots are in the city but are not
defined by it; it’s where they jump to find their own way and
make the world at large their home. Their sound backs up
this attitude. It’s an organic sound inhabited by specters that
lurk behind repetitive rhythms, where Estrella’s angelic voice
evokes a supernatural world of beauty and melancholy built
by rock instruments and synthesizers. Like spirits that
wander through our reality, they don’t anchor themselves to
one place, yet it’s probable that something
like Mint Field might not have come out of anywhere else but
Mint Field are not spirits from beyond that have come to
communicate with us through their own unique sound. In
fact, they are two women that make incredibly evocative
music; they channel their inspirations and influences to
transmit sentiments of profound sorrow, nostalgia and
immaculate beauty, revisiting sounds from the past to make
This emotion is imprinted on the band's first album,Pasar De
Las Luces, a records that has been described by the band
as “basically a compilation of our lives from two years ago to
now.” A mixtape, if you will, of completely original songs that
resound with their recent history. Most of the songs achieve
much with just a few basic melodic ideas and other circular
riffs that never become self-indulgent, rather they form fully
realized and memorable songs. Sanchez’s voices seem to
wander in and out of the picture like rays of pure sunlight on
a cloudy day, giving a little color to something that is
otherwise blue and dark. There are winks to many musical
styles like dream pop, jangle pop, indie, twee pop, fuzz-
saturated shoegaze, and the cycling repetitions of krautrock,
as well as its basis of post punk with dark edges.
Pasar De Las Luceswas recorded and mixed by Christopher
Koltay at High Bias recordings in Detroit, MI. Mastering was
done by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering in Brooklyn, NY.
Artwork was done by Emilio Villalba.